410 Cablegram to Canberra

Jakarta, 30 January 1976


East Timor—Minister's Visit

For Minister and Secretary; For Birch (Singapore)

During his visit to Jakarta the Minister asked me to let him have some considered advice on Indonesian reactions to the idea he put forward here in an exploratory way of Australian participation in a possible future UN peace-keeping force in Timor.

  1. As I understood it, the Minister's main concern was that the pro-Indonesian forces would not defeat Fretilin in the near future and that a 'festering sore', in the form of continuing guerilla warfare would develop in East Timor. Such a development would make it increasingly difficult for Indonesia's friends, inside and outside the South East Asian region, to maintain close relations with Indonesia. In particular anti-Indonesian feeling in Australia would be exacerbated. Also stability in the region immediately to Australia's north would be threatened. The Minister also suggested that United States military assistance to Indonesia would also be stopped.
  2. In these circumstances and depending on the results of the Winspeare Mission's visit to East Timor, the Minister was weighing in his mind the possibility of Australia, with possibly another regional country (he mentioned Malaysia) participating in a UN peace-keeping force or the like while an act of self-determination was held in East Timor. This force could be established, as I understood the Minister, after Indonesian forces were withdrawn.
  3. On reflection I would have serious reservations about such an initiative. I do not think it would succeed and it would lead to further strains in our relations with Indonesia.
  4. Indonesia's unchanged policy is to integrate East Timor. It will provide sufficient force to do so as quickly as possible but without needlessly antagonising the local population. Indonesia is also publicly committed to some form of act of self-determination. Present indications are that it would be conducted by the Provisional Government in Dili within a year, with some form of international observation (but not supervision).
  5. In the light of Indonesian policy as I see it, I should like to comment on five aspects of the Minister's ideas on Timor. I shall try not to repeat what I said in JA3981,1 but these comments should be read in conjunction with that telegram.
  6. On the concept of the 'festering sore', I am not in a position to comment authoritatively on the likelihood of sustained and serious guerilla warfare developing in East Timor. The Indonesians certainly will do all they can to prevent it. They expect small scale resistance in restricted areas to remain for some time. But they are not too concerned about this because of the difficulty hard core Fretilin supporters who do not surrender when the dry season comes will have in getting supplies and because they do not consider there is much grass-roots support for Fretilin (or the other parties). If, however, a 'festering sore' looked like developing, I believe the Indonesians would, to maintain the medical analogy, act to cauterize it.
  7. If they were to fail to do so and a serious resistance movement were to develop, that would be a new situation demanding a new approach. At such a stage they might look to regional countries to help them off the hook but it seems unlikely. Indonesia has the proven ability to cut off its nose to spite its face and to ignore the strictures of other countries if it suits it to do so (it is the only country to have left the United Nations).
  8. In any case I have not seen any firm evidence from any reliable sources that
    1. the Indonesians will not be able to defeat Fretilin in the next few months and;
    2. that the Indonesians will not be able to contain the Fretilin remnants, even though they may hang-on for some time; or
    3. that significant outside support-including arms-for Fretilin is likely.
  9. Secondly, the Indonesian attitude to international involvement in Timor has changed with the circumstances since it suggested in August 1975 a multi-national force including Australia and Malaysia to restore peace and order. So has its attitude to Australian involvement. In August they thought it would be helpful. Now they would not. This initiative failed and the Indonesians now consider that they are carrying out the task of restoring peace and order. The Minister raised the possibility of international participation during his visit here. While the President and Malik (twice) did not reply directly their response in Indonesian, especially Javanese, terms was a negative one. Panggabean said it was 'too late' for such a proposal to be put into effect when the Minister mentioned it to him.
  10. Thirdly, the Indonesians will not withdraw their forces until they have established control and are confident of the outcome of any act of self-determination. This is settled Indonesian policy although they will say publicly and to the United Nations that the[y] will withdraw their military assistance in consultation with the Provisional Government.
  11. Fourthly, while the Indonesians may allow and may even encourage, some international observation of the act of self-determination, I wonder whether Australia would want to be associated with what will inevitably be a questionable act. It is most unlikely that international supervision—as distinct from observation—of the act of self-determination will be allowed by Indonesia or the Provisional Government in Dili (which appears to need no coaching from Indonesia on this point).
  12. Finally, the Minister referred to the possibility that another regional country, perhaps Malaysia, might participate with Australia in the proposed force. I do not know whether this possibility has been discussed with the Malaysians, but I very much doubt whether the Malaysians would agree to any such initiative without the prior agreement of Indonesia. I would guess that the Indonesians would in any case have consulted the Malaysians following the Minister's visit.
  13. I realise that the idea was exploratory and that the details had not been worked out. As the Minister himself said he was simply 'putting his toe in the water'. Our assessment is that the water is decidedly chilly.
  14. Short of a basic change in Indonesia's policy-which we do not expect-1 am certain that the sort of proposal he has in mind would not divert Indonesia from its present course and that Indonesia would resist it firmly if we were to pursue it. We consider it would place Australia in opposition to Indonesia and further complicate our relations in the next few years.
  15. We have not repeated this cable to New York because we are not sure of the extent to which the Minister's proposal is known there.


[NAA: A10463, 801/13/1111, xx]